I started out my freshman year as an environmental studies major, wanting to learn more about the rainforests, biology and all of that. I had no interest in politics, health, social rights or anything else. But as I kept taking classes, I realized that many of these environmental problems go beyond the cliché portraits of tree huggers chained to redwoods and protesters picketing against carbon emissions just to save the polar bears. These problems affect us as humans in more fundamental ways than many of us realize — encompassing everything from race and socioeconomics, to health, politics and business.
There are problems from the Amazon rainforest and the tar sands of Alberta, to the sweatshops in China and the pesticide-laden winter tomato fields of Florida. They shouldn’t be taken as lightly as they are, especially in media and in the mindsets of many Americans.
These issues aren’t widely discussed mainly because many in this country still don’t agree that climate change is even happening. But regardless of whether or not you agree about climate change, there are countless other faults within our already fragmented system, which go completely unmentioned.
The only thing in popular culture that I can possibly compare this to is “Game of Thrones” (sorry for any spoilers). Here are seven dozen and a half people stuck on a power trip, vying for the same throne, and yet almost everyone is oblivious to the White Walkers descending from the north to kill everyone in their path. Of course our environmental issues may not be as visible as even the White Walkers. But they are possibly the most salient, yet multi-faceted issues facing each individual member of this planet today.
How different would the books (and the show) be if the people of Westeros were properly informed about the issues they faced way ahead of time? Perhaps, they would prepare for war or at least ready themselves in order to lessen the blow.
Of course, we can all just sit here and argue good old-fashioned Republican vs. Democrat style, on reproductive rights, drones, Internet privacy, race, class and the job market. And while all these issues are indeed important, the fact of the matter is the “Winter is coming.” The least we can do is be slightly informed.
Here are a few topics:
Food recalls: Environmentalists aren’t just arguing against factory-farmed meat because we think cows are cuddly and eating meat is inherently bad. There are antibiotics, hormones, fecal matter and known carcinogens within your hermetically sealed package of supermarket meat. And that’s not the worst of it — all of animals’ bodily waste heavily laden with E. coli runs off into bodies of water and causes millions of pounds of everything from peanut butter to spinach to be recalled each year.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch of Doom: It’s roughly the size of Texas and it floats. The next fish filet you buy at the supermarket for dinner might have swam in those exact same waters and probably will transfer tangible amounts of plastic and heavy metals to your body after consumption. Makes you wonder how many Starbuck’s iced coffee cups have ended up on your plate.
Poverty: Large transnational companies are pushing impoverished people in Asia and Africa off arable farmland and into mega-city slums. Now jobless, hungry and poor, many desperate people turn to human or drug trafficking, one of the many socioeconomic problems tied to impoverished nations. So instead of pushing food aid, perhaps a better long-term solution would be to give people their plot of land back. Maybe then we wouldn’t have to spend millions on growing and sending food to them.
For the sake of the article, all of these arguments are just simplified forms of the bigger dilemmas that we face. My four years at Binghamton University have taught me that once you start to pick at flaws in the system, you may just find that the whole thing falls apart in front of you. At this point, our actions are so far removed from the consequences that they’re not even discussed in major political discourse. So if you want to truly know about the state of affairs, inform yourself about environmental issues, because they really do affect you. Individual actions can make a small difference, but our time’s running out. If the public has a basic understanding of issues like these, our impact might be greater; we might just be able to lessen the blow. So get informed.